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The Bachmann Effect

The entry of Michelle Bachmann into the Presidential race changes everything! Or does it?

Minnesota Congressman Michelle Bachmann will officially join the Presidential race on Monday. Let’s put on our political strategist hats and think of a few scenarios that could result from Bachmann’s entry into the race.  Here are what I think are the four most likely scenarios, in no particular order:

1. Bachmann dominates the most ardent evangelicals and tea-partiers but few others, allowing Romney to stick with a more centrist reasonable message and win the primary and possibly the general. In this scenario she plays a role for Romney similar to the one Huckabee played for McCain in 2008.  In 2008 McCain won by wining the large states without large evangelical bases largely because the evangelical voters, and few others, went for Huckabee.  In a sense, Huckabee put religious conservatives on an island with no other voters and with them out of the way a candidate that appealed to independents the non-religious elements of the Republican party could march to victory.

If Bachmann dominated the evangelicals and tea-partiers but few others it would have two effects.  First, it would prevent any serious challenger to Romney from gaining sufficient support to overtake him.  It is hard to imagine a path for Pawlenty (or anyone else) to challenge Romney that doesn’t involve either Romney stumbling or Pawlenty catching fire with tea-partiers and evangelicals.  Second, if Bachmann dominated the evangelicals and tea-partiers Romney could credibly cede the evangelical and tea-party base to Bachmann and stick with his more reasonable general election message, helping him in the long run because he won’t have to say extreme things he will come to regret in the general election.  In this scenario Bachmann hands the primary to Romney and possibly the general.

2.  Bachmann gains traction beyond just the tea-party and evangelical base forcing Romney to the right to beat her, possibly winning him the primary but losing him the general. In this scenario Bachmann wins Iowa and finishes impressively in New Hampshire, giving Romney a run for his money.  To compete Romney is forced to the hard right, damaging his electability in the general.  This also has parallels from 2008 when McCain moved to the right in tone, if not in substance, costing him crucial independent voters he would need to win the general.  In this scenario Bachmann hands to race to Obama.

3. Bachmann flames out early on, having little impact on the race. Bachmann is prone to saying wrong and seemingly bizarre things, and you can bet the other candidates will be waiting to jump on her if she makes a silly mistake.  One plausible option is that she makes a mistake early on and flames out, having little impact on the race except as a footnote.

4. Bachmann wins the primary, handing the race to Obama. Since this blog is all about being rational, we do have to acknowledge that the odds her winning the primary, though not great, are almost certainly better than her odds of winning the general.  That doesn’t mean it would be a landslide, it certainly would not (a large portion of this country would vote for anything or anyone rather than Obama, no matter what, end of story) but Obama’s chances in purple states such as Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina are vastly improved if Bachmann is the opponent.

Feel free to comment and make your predictions.  As for my bet, I’m with option 3, I think she flames out within a matter of months, but I could be wrong.  If you’re feeling bold, now’s the time to put your money where your mouth is.

You can read this and earlier posts at my blog Rational Persuasion.

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